FCC helps inmates, families

Published 12:00 pm Friday, October 23, 2015

A majority of Americans only think about prison phone calls when watching someone in the movies behind bars make a collect call to a family member. Or perhaps they are joking with friends about who will receive their “one phone call” if ever locked up.

Few of us realize that sometimes costs for a phone call within prison walls can be up to $14 a minute. Even if you’re Donald Trump, that’s a hair-raising cost for a service we don’t think much about generally since our talk time and text messages are unlimited for one monthly fee.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, excessive fees that can raise the cost of phone calls from prisoners to loved ones up to 40 percent are now a thing of the past as of Thursday.

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Currently, the average cost in Mississippi of a 15-minute, in-state, long-distance, prepaid phone call from a family member to a loved one in prison is $5.70. The FCC’s new rate cap cuts that cost by 71 percent, to $1.65 for that same 15-minute call.  The FCC also cut its existing cap on interstate long-distance calls by half, also bringing the cost of a 15-minute interstate long-distance call to $1.65.

Those are average costs, too. The cost for large prisons is the cheapest, but the smaller the jail facility gets, the larger the cost is due to the price of the infrastructure.

Based on data collected by the FCC, the order adopted by the FCC caps the rate for all local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons nationwide at 11 cents per minute, while providing tiered rates to account for the higher cost of serving jails and smaller institutions. The cap fully covers the costs of providing the security required for inmate calling, and allows providers a reasonable return.

We commend the FCC for stepping up and not only fixing an outlandish fee structure, but also for calling it to the attention of the media and Americans. Just about everyone complains about their cellphone plan or cable or satellite provider at one point or another, but those moms who are making a valiant effort to have their children talk to their dad while behind bars after losing possibly the sole income provider really have a lot to complain about.

The cheaper the phone calls, the more camaraderie families can keep, despite the horrible circumstances. The cheaper the call, the more dad can tell a rebelling son without a father in the picture to listen to his mom. The more families can stick together reduces recidivism. A simple thing like reducing phone call costs can improve America’s morale and future.